After nine years of sending players into Major and Minor League Baseball, the Sugar Land Skeeters have finally made it themselves.
On Friday the Houston Astros formally announced their purchase of the majority share of the independent league team and named them their Triple-A affiliate.
“We are excited to bring Triple-A baseball to Sugar Land, which is a great city with great fans,” said Astros Owner and Chairman Jim Crane. “We look forward to partnering with the City of Sugar Land’s great leadership to reinvest into the ballpark to make it one of the best Triple-A facilities in the country. I also want to personally thank (Skeeters owners) Bob and Marcie Zlotnik, who were instrumental in bringing baseball to Sugar Land.”
That deal is expected to close at the end of the year. The Skeeters will play in the Pacific Coast League and will continue to play games at Constellation Field, just 22 miles from Minute Maid Park. As a result of the deal, the Astros will own their Single-A (Fayetteville, N.C.), Double-A (Corpus Christi) and Triple-A affiliates.
“We’re excited,” said Skeeters President Christopher Hill. “This is the most exciting event for this team since Opening Day back in 2012.”
“It is an honor to be the new Triple-A home of the Houston Astros,” said Sugar Land Mayor Joe R. Zimmerman. “We are incredibly excited about this opportunity to showcase our city and partner with the Houston Astros and Major League Baseball. We look forward to welcoming new visitors to our city who have yet to discover what makes Constellation Field and Sugar Land special. I’d like to thank the Sugar Land Skeeters for putting Sugar Land on the baseball map and the Houston Astros for their investment in our community and their commitment to the future of baseball in Sugar Land.”
Current Skeeters owner Bob Zlotnik said he was thrilled to partner with the Astros, his favorite Major League team.
“I have mixed emotions about it,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed being in charge … but as a baseball fan I’m excited about it.”
He said it will be a great opportunity for local fans to not only see rising talent for the Astros but also the chance to see established stars on rehab assignments.
“If (Jose) Altuve or (Alex) Bregman or one of those guys gets hurt they can rehab here in Sugar Land and go home to their own bed,” he said.
The Sugar Land Skeeters were established in 2010 as an expansion team in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball and began play in 2012. In that span they made the playoffs in four of eight seasons and won Atlantic League championships in 2016 and 2018. Their last appearance in the Atlantic League was Game 5 of the Championship Series when they lost to the Long Island Ducks.
The Atlantic League did not play in 2020 and instead the Skeeters hosted a four-team pop-up league called the Constellation League. The Skeeters were the first independent league baseball team in Sugar Land and the first minor league team in the Greater Houston area since the Houston Buffaloes (final season was 1961).
“This is an incredibly monumental day for our organization and the city of Sugar Land,” said Kevin Zlotnik, son and co-owner with his parents. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with the Houston Astros and are immensely proud to be affiliated with their organization. To become the first-ever independent league team to make this kind of a jump speaks to Sugar Land and our fans for what we’ve been able to create at Constellation Field.”
Hill, the team president, said there are many more announcements to be made as the details are worked out. He said ticket sales should be announced soon, along with changes that will need to be made at the ballpark.
“There’s plenty more announcements to come,” he said. “There’s a lot that’s going to be happening over the next three years.”
The Skeeters are the second team from the Atlantic League to be taken up by a Major League franchise this year. Earlier the Somerset Patriots, the last original member of the league, left to become a Class AA affiliate of the New York Yankees. That leaves the Atlantic League with six teams, including the new one starting in 2021 in Gastonia, N.C.
“The Sugar Land Skeeters have competed in the Atlantic League for the past eight Championship Seasons and we will miss them. We wish the Zlotnik family and Skeeters staff good luck in the future and thank the community of Sugar Land for its years of hospitality,” said Rick White, president of the Atlantic League. “Our efforts now turn to the future of the ALPB and announcing dates for the 2021 Championship Season.”
Fans of the Skeeters are cautiously optimistic about what the new affiliation will mean for them.
“I have truly enjoyed being a season ticket holder from the day everything started for the Skeeters,” said Susan Cofer. “I am looking forward to having the Skeeters being associated with the Astros, but I am also hesitant. I wonder if we will lose the family feel of things being an official farm team of MLB. Will we continue to have the atmosphere we have had in the past? A lot of the draw of the Skeeters was based on the family atmosphere and access to players, coaches and office staff. We all felt like one big family. I hope we do not lose that.”
Skeeters bat boy Michael “Big Mike” Garcia likes the opportunity.
“I am truly blessed to be able to work with the Skeeters and the organization and I love every single part of it being a bat boy,” he said. “(They came) out with baseball cards and a bobble head (of me) and (I like) being in the newspapers and on the news and wining two championship and getting rings and working some of the events that they have. I like meeting the fans and it feels like one big family and I love them all. I have always been an Astros fan. I can’t wait for the day to come, if I get to come back.”